Aaron was fast and strong, and a skilled fighter, as he had claimed. And at the moment he seemed utterly furious and intent on taking her down – which actually ended up working in Buffy’s favor.
When he lunged at her in angry retaliation for the blows she had already dealt him, she ducked back, using his forward motion to get behind him. Before he could regain his balance, she caught his arm and twisted it up hard behind his back, in the same movement shoving him face first into the wall.
He struggled to break her grip, snarling at her, but found her too strong. His resistance only resulted in another vicious twist of his arm, just before the Slayer grabbed his hair and yanked him away from the wall, only to slam his head back into it again, hard.
He stopped fighting her then, a bit dazed from the blows to the head, gasping out hurriedly, “Okay! Okay, Slayer, I give up!” just as she pulled him back in preparation for another up-close-and-personal introduction to the wall.
“Good to know,” she muttered with a cold smile, still pinning him against the wall with one hand, but releasing her grip on his hair – only to pull a stake from her back pocket and press it hard against his back, at just the perfect upward angle to pierce his heart.
“Whoa, whoa -- *wait*!” he protested in a trembling, startled voice of fear. “Are you freakin’ crazy? What are you *doing*?” The tone of his voice told her that for some reason, he had not expected the fight to go this far.
Or maybe he just had not expected to lose.
She frowned, puzzled a bit that he was actually surprised by her actions. “Ramming a stake through your heart and ending your miserable existence,” she replied matter-of-factly without hesitation, pressing a bit harder with the stake. “you two-faced, lying little traitor,” she added for good measure.
“*Wait*!” he gasped out desperately at the increased pressure. His voice was shaking, almost panicked, as he realized that she actually meant to stake him. “What are you talking about?” he demanded in a rush. “You’re out of your mind! I’m here to *help* you! I’m on *your* side, Slayer! Why are you doing this? What did I do?”
“Besides attacking me?” she asked dryly, eyebrows raised in an expression that clearly said that whatever he thought he was selling – she had no intention of buying it.
“No,” he said in a slow, overly patient voice that made her think that he had a lot of nerve for a vampire pinned to a wall by a Slayer who was holding a stake to his heart. “*You* attacked *me*, Slayer.”
She opened her mouth to argue – then stopped suddenly, frowning. *Was* that how it had happened? She realized with an uncomfortable sense of doubt that actually, she *had* struck the first blow.
“But,” she stubbornly insisted, though she did ease up a little with the stake at his back. “You came up behind me and grabbed me.”
“I was just trying to get your attention.”
She paused, before making her next point. “And you’re all with the ‘grrr’ and the fanginess. What’s up with that, Mr. Innocent?”
With great patience, as if she were a very stupid child, Aaron explained calmly, “You…jumped…*me*. Okay? I’m sorry, but if you’re a vampire, and a Slayer starts beating the crap out of you for no apparent reason – there’s really only one reaction you’re gonna have to that!”
Buffy had to admit that he had a point. She glanced uncertainly at Spike, who gave her a little apologetic half-shrug and a grudging look of acknowledgement at his words. He knew from experience that what Aaron had said was true. Before the chip, back when fighting a human was not automatically followed by severe, agonizing pain – his first reaction to Buffy’s actions would have been to go for her throat.
Of course – that was back when he had been trying to kill her – not risking his life for her, as he was now.
Buffy was not completely convinced, though his argument for why had had vamped out and come at her like he had *did* make sense. Still – it did not answer her other questions. He still seemed like the most likely suspect for the assassin among Giles’ group. And why was he here now, anyway? Had he followed her, looking for a chance to accomplish his second mission and take her out?
“Why are you here?” she asked him in a hard, suspicious voice, giving his arm another warning twist, leaning in closer in a threatening way.
Aaron winced at the pain in his arm, but there were equal parts fear and sheer annoyance in his voice when he replied. “I came here to *help* you – like I was supposed to, remember? I told you that already.”
“How did you find us?” she demanded.
Spike interrupted quietly just as Aaron opened his mouth to answer her question. “Same as I found Anya, love,” he reminded her softly. “Vampire, remember?”
Buffy frowned as she considered that, still reluctant to let the situation go. There was at least a one in three chance that Aaron was the traitor, even if all of his reasons and explanations did happen to check out at the moment.
“It just seems like quite a convenient little coincidence,” she said quietly, grudgingly releasing her hold on the captive vampire, allowing him to turn around to face her, but still watching him warily, and not putting away her stake. “You just showing up here out of the blue.”
“Not really,” Aaron argued, rolling his eyes in irritation. “You guys were gone so long, we got worried, and I came to see if you were all right – and help, if you needed it.” He gave her a dark look as he added, “Apparently – you didn’t. That’s what I get for trying to help a Slayer.”
Spike couldn’t help the little snort of laughter that escaped his lips, though he quickly tried to cover it with a cough and a studied innocent look when Buffy glared at him.
“Look, just ask Giles,” Aaron offered impatiently, meeting her eyes squarely in an attempt to convince her of his innocence. “He sent me.” As he spoke, he reached toward his pocket.
Instantly Buffy reacted, gripping his wrist and slamming it hard against the wall, pinning it before he could get to whatever was in his pocket.
“Damn it!” he cried out in anger and pain, wincing and leaning his head back against the wall behind him. “It’s not a weapon, Slayer! If I was gonna attack you do you think I’d use a weapon? It’s a camera and recording device that Giles sent with me!”
As he spoke, Buffy reached into his pocket and took out the tiny pieces of equipment he had described.
Aaron looked to Spike in annoyance, searching for some kind of support. “Is she always such a raging bitch? Maybe it’s a Slayer thing?”
Spike gave a non-committal shrug, looking away as he suppressed a grin. He had not thought of Buffy in that way in a very long time. But he could still remember the feisty, aggressive girl who had made his life so miserable in the three years he had known her before the rise of the slavery movement. Aaron’s words sounded like his own assessment of Buffy back then – at least on the surface.
Even then, he had secretly seen her as so much more than that.
“You know – I haven’t decided yet whether or not to stake you,” Buffy reminded the smart-mouthed vampire in a testy tone, but her eyes were focused on the tiny devices in her hand, her faced scrunched up in a frown of concentration. “So – why were you supposed to bring these again? And why exactly should I believe that they’re not set to explode or something?”
Aaron heaved a weary sigh. “Giles had me wear them when I left, to be sure that if I got into any trouble, they’d know and could help. And also so that we could maybe leave here with some evidence. But when I got to the crypt upstairs – well – I took them off.”
His tone was quiet and a bit uncomfortable, and Buffy looked up at him sharply, her guilt clear in her questioning eyes.
Aaron shrugged, his eyes averted cautiously. “I didn’t think Giles and the others really needed to see that.” His voice was quiet, even and non-judgmental – just stating the facts. “So I turned them off and put them away until I found you. Figured it’d be better for you to wear them while we’re in here anyway.” He met her eyes again with a cynical but not unpleasant smile. “If anything happens to me before we get out of here – it’d really suck if the evidence got dusted.”
Buffy stared at him through serious eyes for a long moment, studying his expression. It made her feel exposed and terribly guilty to realize that he had seen the results of her violent outburst upstairs – but very relieved that he had had the compassion and foresight to turn off the camera before Giles and her friends saw it as well.
She was finding it harder and harder not to believe Aaron’s story.
“So – how do these things work again?” Buffy asked, looking away from his dark, penetrating eyes and back at the small camera and speaker.
The fact that she allowed the vampire to help her put the speaker in her ear correctly and attach the camera to her collar was proof to all concerned that she was beginning to trust him in spite of herself.
Spike watched dubiously; that same fact was causing him the exact opposite reaction.
“So – we know that you’re not doing all of this just to lead Buffy into a trap – how, exactly?” he asked, showing his first signs of genuine suspicion during the whole conversation.
Aaron smirked slightly, a knowing look that said he could clearly see the jealousy that was the true source of Spike’s uncertainty about him, as he stepped back from Buffy after flipping a tiny switch on the camera, his hands raised for just a split second in a backing off sort of gesture as his eyes focused on the older vampire.
“Just ask Giles,” he repeated calmly. “He’ll tell you. He. Sent. Me.”
Buffy turned the tiny dial on the earpiece, listening as the static in her ear faded away to a soft, clear silence, before speaking softly. “Giles?”
“Giles!” Willow called out excitedly from the living room when she heard her friend’s voice come over the speakers of her laptop, just as the fuzzy white static on the screen began to flicker back into a picture. “The signal’s back up, it’s Buffy!”
“Um…ow?” the quiet, slightly tinny sound of her friend’s voice reached her again over the speakers, and Willow realized with a little grimace that she had been speaking louder and sitting closer to the microphone than she had realized.
“Oh…sorry, Buffy,” she said sheepishly. “It’s just – the signal just *stopped*, and we were so worried, and we thought something had happened to Aaron, but – obviously not because you have the equipment, and if something had happened to him than it would have disappeared in a big poof of dust – and it’s obviously *not* dust, so…”
“Sorry,” came the immediate answer.
As this little exchange was going on, Tara, Mara, and Julian had gathered from their places around the living room, closer to the screen to better hear and see what was happening. Xander was asleep; Tara had done a spell to help him rest and calm down, and he had been completely out of it for the past hour.
Just at that moment, Giles rushed into the room from the kitchen and leaned down close to the microphone, staring at the laptop screen as the picture slowly came into focus. Buffy was wearing the camera, so the picture showed Aaron, leaning against the wall beside her, and just beyond him, Spike standing, staring dubiously in the general direction of the camera – probably at Aaron.
“Buffy! Are you all all right?” Giles asked anxiously, his relief evident in his tone. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” Buffy sighed, relieved herself to hear her Watcher’s voice and know that at least part of the story Aaron had told her was true, and that whoever the assassin was, they hadn’t gotten to him yet. “But the main thing is that we’re down here in one of the training centers, and they’ve got Anya…”
“But we’ve found her,” Spike interjected, his voice barely audible due to his distance from the microphone.
“We’ve found…” Buffy began to repeat, then stopped suddenly. “We found her?”
“Yeah,” Spike replied impatiently. “Like I told you if you’d been bloody listening.”
“Well, I was kinda busy,” Buffy reminded him dryly, a slight defensive note in her voice. “I was being attacked – or – um, I thought I was.”
“But you weren’t,” Aaron reminded her.
“No, I wasn’t…”
“*Buffy*!” Giles interrupted the little argument impatiently.
“Oh! Sorry…um…Giles I need to tell you something,” Buffy went on in a rush, now that her thoughts were called back to the matter at hand. “We found some documents of Riley’s on one of his projects, and he’s training some of the slaves to be assassins! He’s figured out a way to fix the chips so they only fire when he wants them to, and he’s placed these assassin vamps in the homes of people that he wants killed. The vamp that killed the senator was one of them. And Giles – his records say that one of his assassins is – is in your home.”
“What?” Aaron’s shocked voice could be heard, a little muffled and softer than Buffy’s, over the speaker. Apparently that was the first he had heard of it.
It was certainly the first that *Giles* had heard of it.
“Why…that’s…that’s preposterous, Buffy. Utterly ridiculous,” he objected, but his voice was trembling slightly at the very thought. “I know every one of my vampires, and not one of them would ever…”
“Giles,” Buffy interrupted. “They probably wouldn’t want to. But they might not have a choice. We don’t really know a lot about what Riley’s plan involves, how he’s doing it exactly – but we know that he is. They might not want to hurt you – and they might not even do it – but it’s a fact, Giles. One of your group is a plant. And until we find out who it is and contain them – you and everyone else in that house is in danger.”
Giles and Willow exchanged a worried, wide-eyed look, before Giles looked back toward the screen.
“Buffy – I simply can’t believe that,” he said quietly.
“Giles, just – just see if you can get them – restrained, somehow. Or locked in one room of the house. Just so they can’t hurt anyone until I get back. If they’re really on your side – they shouldn’t mind that much.”
Just as Giles began to speak, he heard Spike’s quiet voice through the speaker and saw him move closer to Buffy, shaking his head, “That’s not necessarily true,” he argued with a warning look.
“Buffy – I can’t do that to them,” Giles objected. “I’ve spent months – years – building trust – breaking down the walls of slavery – and I can’t ask them to submit to anything of that nature again – even from me.”
“Giles…” Buffy began impatiently, not concerned with the emotional well-being of the vampires in question – only concerned with her Watcher’s safety.
“No!” Giles snapped, harsher than he had intended, and loud enough that Willow flinched involuntarily, and Buffy actually stopped talking. Softening his tone, realizing the lack of control he had just shown, Giles repeated, “No. I will talk to them, Buffy. I will see if they know anything about the plan you’re talking about. But I will *not* treat them like prisoners and reduce them to the very condition I’ve spent the last few years convincing them that they do *not* deserve. I refuse.”
“Buffy. That is my decision. Now…you’ve found Anya, you say?”
With those words, he effectively closed the subject for the moment, and Buffy was left with no option but to hurry up the completion of their mission and get back to the house to handle the situation herself.
Willow was not sure how wise Giles’ decision was, but she could certainly understand the sentiment behind it. She, too, had spent the last few years getting to know the vampires in Giles’ care, and could hardly conceive of the idea that one of them might be a traitor. She wondered how Buffy’s accusation might have affected them, and looked toward where they had been standing, to gauge their reactions, a puzzled frown coming to her face as she glanced around the living room.
Both of the chipped vampires had slipped away during the discussion, and were no where to be seen.
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